With the 2021 fruit and vegetable season already underway a cross-party committee has criticised the UK Government’s ’last minute approach’ to finalising of its recruitment scheme for overseas seasonal workers.
The Government only announced the final two of four operators for its Seasonal Workers Pilot on May 5.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has also repeated its call for the Seasonal Worker Pilot scheme which this year has been extended to 30,000 places, to be broadened to include other food supply chain and agricultural sectors beyond edible horticulture.
The committee said it was concerned about recent evidence of shortages of skilled workers, especially Official Veterinarians (OVs) working in abattoirs.
Neil Parish, chairman of the committee, said: "It is now May, with peak harvesting season almost upon us.
British Growers have been placed at the bottom of the Home Office’s priorities list, and the unnecessary uncertainty could prove costly for producers. Despite last year’s Pick for Britain pilot scheme, our report made it clear that overseas labour is still very much needed.
"Before Christmas, we warned the Government of the huge consequences of keeping plans for seasonal labour vague until the very last minute. There can be no excuse for further hold-ups- the Home Office need to start listening to the agricultural sector now to minimise the impact on British farmers.”
NFU Scotland policy manager David Michie said: “ Our members have been on the sharp end of the delays in the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme, which have caused unnecessary anxiety about getting fruit picked and paid for, rather than it being left to rot in the field. The announcement of the full list of operators just weeks before the season starts to peak was unacceptable.
“One of our biggest concerns is very high visa cost of this scheme relative to the previous SAWS (Seasonal Agricultural Workers) scheme.
"This cost is high for both the worker and the grower, affecting the morale of the people picking the fruit and the bottom line of the businesses growing it. NFUS wants this red tape and high cost to be looked at as the Home Office learns lessons from this pilot scheme.”